Black Ham - Part II - Calculating the Cure

Continuing the story of how a cure is formulated, the first half is here:
Black Ham - Part I - Getting the Information

In the first part, I've done a little digging to find the ingredients I'm going to use for my Black Ham, decided the method I'm going to use, and explained how I'll calculate it. What I've still got to do is decide how much of each ingredient I want in my ham and what type of curing salt to use. Some of these are just a matter of taste, such as herbs, spices and sugar. Others, such as the salt will be partially governed by the amount needed to make a safe cure, and partially by taste. The level of curing salt will be fixed at, "The minimum amount needed to ensure that the meat is safe". But firstly I've got to decide what type of curing salt I want to use.

Traditionally, saltpetre, potassium nitrate, has been used in the curing of hams; it's been used for hundreds of years. It reacts with the bacteria in the meat and produces potassium nitrite which colours and protects the meat. Along with saltpetre, traditional curers have also used Chile saltpetre, sodium nitrate, which works similarly.

We now have access to the nitrite salts that nitrates produce produce when they react with meat; the advantage of this is that they can get to work and give protection to the meat immediately, and are a known quantity. With the nitrate cures, the amount that converts to nitrite could be anywhere between none or all of it. We can use a lot less of the modern replacements and still be sure of a result. However, nitrates are still used in curing as they act as a reservoir for nitrites in longer term cures.

As I plan on smoking my ham, and then drying and maturing it for a period of time, I will rule out using solely Cure #1, a mix of sodium nitrite and salt, and instead choose one with some nitrate in it. This leaves me a choice between Cure #2, a mix of sodium nitrite and nitrate combined in unequal proportions with salt, or using a mix of saltpetre and cure #1. I'll decide which when I've decided the levels of each that I need to use.

The EU levels for commercial curing for new products are that the amount of each of nitrates and nitrites going in must be less that 150mg/kg each. However, traditional products like these have certain exemptions and can use more. As it's my belief that most of these exemptions were more to do with British curers not wanting to be told what to do by EU bureaucrats, rather than on any scientific basis that could justify them, I'll stick to the 150 mg/kg in the new rules (although, in general, I agree with the curers' sentiments!). If I use Cure #2 to give 150 mg/kg nitrite, because of it's fixed proportions, I will have 96 mg/kg nitrate. That's not too bad, but I'm a bit anal about these things, so will use a mixture of Cure #1 for the nitrite, and saltpetre for the nitrate.

OK that's the cure sorted, but how much sugar/molasses and salt? In all honesty, I haven't a clue, I'm guessing here, but there seems to me no point putting the beer and molasses in unless I can taste them in the end result. With that in mind, I'm going for a fairly high 3% sugar level in the end result and I'll adjust my calculation for the fact that the molasses contains only about 65% sugar! As for the salt, well it's going to need a fair amount to balance all that sugar, after all it's a ham not a pudding! I think I'll go for an equal 3% level. That's not that high by traditional curing standards, but more than my norm. However, another advantage to using this level of salt is that the brine should then have a concentration over 10%, which makes for a very safe cure. I can always cook the ham in a couple of changes of water if it's a bit salty, but I don't think it will be.

That just leaves the flavourings, a bit of a problem when you've never tasted the real thing! I'll tread lightly, but go for just four classic ham spices: Black Peppercorns, juniper berries, coriander seeds and cloves.

Now I can actually calculate the amounts of each ingredient to use in my brine. Not forgetting that any calculation we do will have to allow for us only curing the meat to 85% of its potential, let's start with the cures; we want 150 mg/kg in the meat, so we must aim for a cure that has potential for 150 / 85 x 100 = 176 mg/kg. By adjusting the equation in Part 1 we can see that:

Cure calculation

For the saltpetre this will be a simple 176 x 3000 / 1,000,000 = 0.53 gm. As the Cure #1 is only 5.88% nitrite we will need 0.53 gm / 5.88 x 100 = 9 gm of Cure #1. We must also note that the Cure #1 has 8.47 gm of salt in it.

To calculate the salt, we want 3% in the product, so we must aim for a potential of 3 / 85 x 100 = 3.53%. As we have 3000gm of meat and cure, 3.53% will be about 106 gm. There's 8 gm in the curing salt, so if we add another 100 gm we won't be far out.

We need about the same amount of sugar so let's round it off and say 110gm sugar. We must remember that the liquid Molasses is only 65% sugar so if we add 100gm molasses we'll have 65 gm sugar and 35gm water. Let's go with that then, we'll add 100gm molasses and 45gm Molasses/Muscodavo sugar, that'll make up the 110gm of sugar nicely.

If we add all of the ingredients we've got together we'll see that we need 745.47gm of liquid to make up our 1,000gm brine. But how much beer and how much water? Well, if you open two 500ml bottles of beer and poor one very badly into a glass so you can't get it all in, you're left with about 100gm of beer plus 1 full bottle of 500gm, that equals 600gm of beer. So you use this amount plus 145.47gm of water, and then drink the glass of beer. Simples!

So here's the final cure, the calculated percentage figures allow me to scale it for any size of meat, but for reasons I'll leave for another occasion, I will only use it for pieces between 1 and 3 kilograms:

Cure calculation

The spices are insoluble so don't need to be calculated. I decided to use 6 peppercorns, 6 coriander seeds, 4 juniper berries and 2 cloves to my 1000gm of brine.

I bashed them about a bit and then brought then to the boil with everything but the cure #1. I boiled it for a couple of minutes, left it to cool, strained it, mixed in the Cure #1, weighed it, and made it up to 1000gm with water. I then put the spices back in. Anal, I know, but with having to boil it anyway, it's no real trouble and allows for any liquid 'boiled off'.

The only thing to do then is put it on the meat in a close, but not tight, fitting non-metallic container and weigh the meat down, again with something non-metallic, to keep it submerged. Turn it every two days until it's due out. For those of you who haven't nodded-off by now, here's the important bit of my spreadsheet showing the figures:

Cure calculation

I've made the recipe using a piece of meat of around 2.3kg - it's due out of the brine on the 23rd November. I'll write more about it then.

The next part is:

Part III - Washing and Drying...

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